The Blind Hammer Column
Blind Hammer reflects on a vital win against Cardiff.
Football can be a game of fine margins. West Ham’s stop/start performance in the first half could easily have seen us fall behind and this could have been a much more difficult night.
Yet before Ward feebly addressed his penalty attempt I was strangely confident that Fabianski would deal with it. In the end he gathered it fairly comfortably. It was telling that at half time that the obvious candidate for man of the match was our goalkeeper who in addition to dealing with the penalty made some fine saves, including a crucial twisting adjustment to cope with a deflected Cardiff effort.
Many were underwhelmed by Fabianski’s recruitment in the summer, arguing he was little better than what we already had. Pellegrini’s judgement and faith has been richly vindicated.
Pellegrini’s judgement has come under some scrutiny in recent games, especially in the home defeat to Manchester City. His surprise decision to start with Masuaku backfired badly then, resulting in his hooking at half time. Even more questionable was his decision to persist with Arnautovic throughout a second half when the cause was clearly hopeless. More pragmatic Managers would have protected Arnautovic from his eventual injury.
Possibly because of this injury Arnautovic has looked diminished in both the Newcastle game and here tonight against Cardiff.
Apart from injury problems there does seem to have been a change in Arnautovic’s body language. He seems rather more petulant and his clumsy concession of a penalty against Cardiff tonight was odd. It is possible that his Brother’s attempt to engineer a “big money” move has just taken the edge off his commitment. Ironically he has in the event become more rather than less injury prone as evidenced by His pulling up with a probable hamstring strain tonight.
As soon as Carroll was judged fit, a couple of weeks ago there was an expectation of a rapid return into the team. Yet Pellegrini has made it clear both against Newcastle and here tonight that both Hernandez and Perez are ahead of in the pecking order.
This judgement was vindicated against Newcastle where Hernandez fired crucial goals. Tonight he was far less effective.
Tonight was Perez’s turn. At half time I wondered aloud what Perez offers the team. In the first 9 minutes of the second half he replied with an emphatic statement of2 goals.
Pellegrini’s faith in both Hernandez and Perez in preference to a returning Carroll was justified, though Carroll’s entry into the fun against a by now demoralised Cardiff late on provided him with a useful workout.
Antonio’s performance at right back was solid enough for me, despite Cardiff’s obvious attempt to target him. Cardiff’s lack of threat for large parts of the game allowed him to launch some telling rungs. His performance was rightly rewarded with a goal though tougher challenges will await him at right back.
Masuaku, in contract, remains a concern. He had a crucial role in our second goal but that is never the issue with him. He is often excellent going forward and can be a handful for many defences. The problem is that he is a disaster waiting to happen in defence. I think there may be a real case for retaining Antonio against Palace but return Zabeleta and ask him to fill in at left back. I shudder at what Townsend and Zahra may accomplish against Masuaku.
Finally a word for our returning Captain Noble. I loved the way he commanded possession, especially in the lead up to our second goal. Noble never uses possession for its own sake and can be as incisive with his passing as anybody.
So Pellegrini is calling the shots and getting more judgements correct than wrong at the moment. He has engineered the first back to back wins for 2 years despite a spiralling and increasing injury list. Wilsher’s return to the list of crocks with a recurring ankle problem after only 5 minutes against Newcastle is a depressing reminder of his glass like fragility.
Yet despite the stretching of our squad with so many injuries a spirit of resourcefulness is emerging at West Ham. Few in the summer would have predicted that we could be looking with some positivity to the challenge of Palace, despite the absence of Fredericks, Arnautovic, Wilshere and Yarmolenko. Pellegrini’s ability to coax out performances from the like of Robert Snodgrass and Grady Diangana, who also gained some useful minutes, is as important as his recruitment of the big name stars.